U.S. Democrats to pick chairman to lead party against Trump, Republicans

ATLANTA, Feb 25 (Reuters) - After a brutal election loss in November, Democrats will choose a new leader on Saturday to begin the daunting task of rebuilding the party and heading the political opposition to Republican President Donald Trump.

The 447 members of the Democratic National Committee, the administrative and fundraising arm of the party, will gather in Atlanta to pick a new chairman in one of the most crowded and competitive party leadership elections in decades.

The stakes are high for a party still struggling to recover from the surprising Nov. 8 loss of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and anxious to channel the growing grassroots resistance to Trump into political support for Democrats at all levels of government across the country.

Possible Democratic 2020 candidates:

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Possible Democratic 2020 candidates
Former Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders thrusts his fist in the air as he arrives to speak during the first session at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Senator Al Franken (D-MN) is seen at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 08: Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo speaks at Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's election night party at Javits Center on November 8, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/FilmMagic)
California Attorney General Kamala Harris arrives to address delegates during the second session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 5, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)
Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julian Castro testifies before a House Financial Services Committee hearing on "Oversight of the Federal Housing Administration", on Capitol Hill in Washington February 11, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS REAL ESTATE BUSINESS)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 28: U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) delivers remarks on the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Philadelphia, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Democratic National Convention kicked off July 25. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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Seven candidates are vying for the chairmanship, led by former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, a favorite of former Obama administration officials, and U.S. Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, backed by liberal leaders such as U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Perez is the son of Dominican immigrants, while Ellison was the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress.

The clash between candidates representing the establishment and progressive wings of the party echoes the bitter 2016 primary between Clinton and Sanders, a rift Democrats hope to put behind them as they turn their focus to fighting Trump.

The election also offers the DNC a fresh start after last year's forced resignation of chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who stepped aside after the release of hacked emails that appeared to show DNC officials trying to help Clinton defeat Sanders in the primaries.

Other contenders are Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Idaho Democratic Party Executive Director Sally Boynton Brown, election lawyer Peter Peckarsky, and activists Jehmu Greene and Sam Ronan.

All of the candidates have pledged to focus on a bottom-up reconstruction of the party, which has lost hundreds of statehouse seats under Obama and faces an uphill task in trying to reclaim majorities in Congress in next year's midterm elections. Ellison has pledged to start building Democratic organizations in each U.S. county.

"We can actually help Democrats win all over the country so that we can get rid of Donald Trump," Ellison said at a candidates' debate on CNN earlier this week. "That means we focus on turnout, and that is how we succeed."

Perez also has promised to confront Trump as Democrats try to harness the energy of the anti-Trump resistance.

"The Democratic Party needs to take the fight to Donald Trump. When we lead with our values, when we lead with our conviction, that's how we succeed," Perez said at the debate.

Democrats who didn't attend the inauguration:

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Rep. Keith Ellison

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Congressman John Lewis

REUTERS/Brian Snyder 

Rep. Ruben Gallego

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard

(Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)

Representative Mark Takano

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Yvette Clarke

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

US Representative Ted Lieu

 (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Rep. Jerrold Nadler

REUTERS/Eric Thayer (UNITED STATES)

 Rep. Raul Grijalva

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Rep. John Conyers

 (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

 Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

 Rep. Mark DeSaulnier

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Nydia Velazquez

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Kurt Schrader

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

 Rep. William Lacy Clay

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

 Rep. Barbara Lee 

(Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation)

 Jose Serrano

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Rep. Judy Chu

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Luis Gutierrez  

REUTERS/Jason Reed 

Rep. Jared Huffman

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

 Catherine Cortez Masto

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Earl Blumenauer

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Al Green, D-Texas

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

 Rep. Adriano Espaillat

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Jerry McNerney

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

 Rep.-elect Pramila Jayapal

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

 Rep. Mark Pocan

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

 Marcia Fudge

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Pa.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Representative Maxine Waters

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rep. Don Beyer

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN)

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL)

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-California

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-California

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California

Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-California

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Penn.

(Photo by Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Chellie Pingree

(Photo by Carl D. Walsh/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-California

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Katherine Clark

(Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Juan Vargas, D-California

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Darren Soto

(Photo: Twitter)

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Alcee Hastings (R) of Florida

(REUTERS/Joe Skipper)

Rep. Grace Meng, D-NY.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill.

(Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)

Rep. Dan Lipinski, R-Ill.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-N.Y.

(Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)

Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

(Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call/Getty Images)

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC)

(Photo by Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images for Google)

Rep. Donald Payne Jr.

(Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)

Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill.

(Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call/Getty Images)

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But Buttigieg warned Democrats it is "not all about Donald Trump," calling him a computer virus in the political system.

"We can't let him dominate our imagination, because it's our values and our candidates that matter most," he said.

Perez and Ellison are considered to be running neck-and-neck in the race to win a majority of the 447 DNC members, who include state party officials, donors and activists from all 50 states.

But if no candidate wins a majority on the first ballot - a strong possibility given the large field - additional rounds of voting will be held. After two rounds, the candidate with the lowest vote total is eliminated.

That could lead to plenty of deal-making and turn some of the contenders into potential kingmakers.

(Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Mary Milliken)

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